Low-Income NYers Take Over Capitol Overnight, Showing Anger Over Proposed Budget as Legislature Debates

Community Members Protest Deep Cuts to Social Services and Elimination of Millionaires Tax

ALBANY, NY (03/30/2011)(readMedia)-- Members of Community Voices Heard, a membership organization of low-income residents representing New York City, Yonkers, Newburgh, and Poughkeepsie, will join a broad coalition of New Yorkers today to protest the budget agreement presented to the Legislature by Governor Cuomo. The Senate and Assembly were in session until late last night, and will begin early this morning in what some think is an attempt to finish debate on the budget before protestors arrive. Demonstrators plan to crowd around the Senate and Assembly Chambers as the Legislature continues their debate, holding signs that highlight the inequities in a budget that cuts essential services to poor and vulnerable New Yorkers while giving a $4.6 billion tax cut for the wealthiest three percent of New Yorkers. In what may prove to be a historic moment, over 500 demonstrators plan to refuse to leave the Capitol and camp out overnight.

[The actions at the capitol can be followed live on our website: www.CVHaction.org/statewide.]

"We elected this Governor, but he's acting like he's been selected only by his millionaire buddies," said Community Voices Heard Board Member Agnes Rivera. "They've gotten together and balanced the budget on our backs, low-income folks. If the Governor wants to help the state, he should be cutting a deal to create jobs and get better education for youth. We're here to let them know this budget cannot stand."

Community Voices Heard has been working over the past few months along with partner group VOCAL-NY to highlight the special interests, in the form of the Committee to Save New York, that have truly hijacked this year's budget. These real estate and business interests spent over $2.5 million arguing against tax breaks and for budget cuts. Meanwhile, New York State remains the most unequal state in the country with 1% of the population receiving 35% of the income. Earlier actions included crashing the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) Ball, visiting the home of Committee to Save New York Board Member Kathryn Wylde, and most recently a takeover of the capitol on March 2nd during which 17 people were arrested in an act of civil disobedience, inspiring the increase in aggressive action against the budget by other groups.

Community Voices Heard members will attend the demonstration today to highlight the devastating cuts to social service programs that help keep the poorest New York families afloat. State lawmakers have agreed to Governor Cuomo's proposal to delay a scheduled 10% increase in the basic welfare grant, an equivalent of only $1 a day for a family of 3. The budget also zeroes out funding for Transitional Jobs and Career Pathways programs, critical programs for moving people from welfare to the workforce by providing job training and paid work.

"This budget hurts poor people the most. It cuts out the few programs that might have helped people who have had to rely on public assistance, like me. The only way we're going to get decent jobs is with training and jobs programs. This is not the time to be cutting jobs and benefits, and poor people should not be the ones to pay...especially while millionaires are getting a tax break!" said Tiara Velez, Community Voices Heard leader.

As the business day comes to a close, demonstrators plan to order pizza in and begin camping out in the Capitol, evoking images of the Wisconsin protests. Groups plan to hold speak-outs, teach-ins, and even a dance party throughout the night to keep their spirits up. The mood will be somber, however, as people talk about how the budget is going to affect the lives of their families and their communities.

"My city suffers from high unemployment, poverty, and the highest crime rate in the state," said Brenda McPhail, Community Voices Heard member from Newburgh, NY. " Losing these critical programs will make the situation worse, and make more people resort to crime because they can't get a job. Even though Cuomo is pushing his property tax cap idea, the state allowed Newburgh to balance our budget by passing a 71% property tax increase, while cutting essential services. The City is going bankrupt, and this is going to drive more people out and make our problems worse. The state should be helping Newburgh stay afloat rather than giving tax breaks to millionaires."

With over 1,000 people planning to descend on Albany from around the state joining together with allies from different backgrounds, different experiences, and from different hometowns, the capitol takeover will prove to be one of the most powerful non-violent demonstrations in Albany history.

"It's not fair to always have the budgets balanced on our backs while the millionaires get away with tax breaks," said CVH member Diane Blanford of Staten Island. "The Governor thinks the fight is over, but for low-income folks, the fight has only just begun!"

Community Voices Heard is a membership-led and directed organization with a statewide network of over 35,000 low-income individuals in New York City, Yonkers, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie. They attended today's demonstration with partner groups from the New Deal for New York Campaign, a statewide coalition of community organizations.